MEMEING AGAINST MAINSTREAM. AN ANALYSIS OF DANK MEMES AND THE PICTORIAL (COUNTER-)PRACTICES OF MEME CULTURE
Keywords:memes, picture practices, mainstream, subculture, vernacular criticism
Internet memes are now part of mainstream media culture. On social media, each day memes are created, consumed, and shared by millions of people. Advertising agencies create their own memes to promote brands and products. However, memes are also integral to subcultures on 4chan, Reddit, and Tumblr, where most memes originate from. These subcultures battle the mainstreamization of memes to protect the independent media making practice of memeing from outsiders, who they call ‘normies.’ Their weapon of choice are so-called ‘dank memes,’ which are self-reflexive internet memes that criticize mainstream memes and memeing. This critique is a form of visual vernacular criticism, which is highly understudied, especially in regard to digital metapictures such as dank memes. The question this paper wants to answer is: how are dank memes made and employed to reclaim the independent media making practice of memeing from mainstream and marketing culture? The focus lies on specific pictorial practices that counteract the popularization and commercialization of internet memes. To explore these counter-practices, the paper proposes a methodology that combines media philosophy with practice theory to stress that digital metapictures themselves such as dank memes hold knowledge about the media practices that mainstream memes are made of, and about how to counteract them. To explore this media knowledge, examples of the meta-meme _Memes Then, Memes Now_ are closely examined in the context of the subreddit r/dankmemes. The conducted picture practice analysis suggests that dank memes oppose image macros, while being criticized themselves as mere shibboleths to meme culture.